CODA (2021): An Audibly Triumphant Story With Every Emotion Ever Conceived

“CODA” is directed by Sian Heder (Orange is the New Black, Little America) and stars Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, and Marlee Matlin in a film about a young girl who is born into a deaf family. She is the only one in the family who has hearing, and finds herself struggling to balance school, her family fishing business, college admissions, and an interest in music.

Despite the notability of this film’s recent Best Picture win at the Academy Awards, not to mention seeing this film in the theater recently, the latter of which almost causes a case for an automatic film review every time, I nearly decided to not review this film at all. But that is until I saw it. And we’ll get to my thoughts in a sec, but I want to note that “CODA” was a film I have looked forward to ever since I first saw the advertising. The reviews looked insane, and it came off as a wonderfully intimate tale about someone who is special and I would not know personally. But for various reasons, I missed the film when it first came to theaters, and I never got around to watching it on Apple TV+. But due to the film’s recent success at the Academy Awards, Apple decided to release the film again with open captions. Given this film’s subject matter, that is a great idea. They released it in several theaters around me, so I decided instead of suffering through “Morbius” a second time, I would take my dad to go see something that won’t make you rip your hair out.

We agreed on “CODA.” Hopefully our choice would be wise.

But of course, there are several movies that exist that have a hype train, only to have said train lose a little steam once it comes out. This happened to me last year with “Soul,” which Peter Travers of ABC News called “the year’s peak achievement in animation,” Josh Wilding of ComicBookMovie.com referred to as “one of Pixar’s most beautiful, poignant films,” and Bob Chipman of Moviebob Central claimed was “among the year’s loveliest, most poignant and moving pieces of work animated or otherwise.” Those are ridiculously positive, star-shooting thoughts.

I mean, I LIKED “Soul,” but at the time it also became my least favorite Pixar movie, so there is that.

Now with “CODA,” we have another insanely praised movie revolving around music. Adam Graham of Detroit News says “CODA” is “a big hug of a movie.” Pete Hammond of Deadline Hollywood suggests “CODA is more than “a moving story of what it means to be in a family, but also one about becoming your own person and following a dream.” For the record, despite this film’s wider release in August, it originally played at Sundance, so I think this notion from Esther Zuckerman at Thrillist should not be ignored.

“‘CODA’ is the kind of movie that you can imagine getting a standing ovation at Sundance, if this were a year where people were allowed to gather in a stuffy Park City auditorium.”

It’s been over a year since this film’s Sundance premiere. It’s been only a little time since this film’s recent collecting of Academy Awards. Is this movie the greatest thing since sliced bread or the next “Soul?”

Neither. There’s sliced bread, there’s better than sliced bread, and then there’s sliced bread with mounds of butter!

If there is any reason that you should spend a few bucks for Apple TV+, “CODA” makes an absolutely compelling argument. My dad walked out of the auditorium saying that this was one of the best movies he has seen in years, and I could definitely see why. I have gathered that he is fairly easy to impress as a moviegoer, but when he REALLY likes a film, I have found it to be obvious. And it is not just him who is yelling out a car window to everyone on the streets to go see this movie, because I for one think that this is one of the best coming of age stories of our time. Does it have some familiar elements or clichés? Perhaps. But it doesn’t always matter if a movie has clichés as long as they are utilized well.

At the end of the day, this is a genius narrative about a girl whose normality makes her abnormal. I have taken a screenwriting class in my sophomore year of college, and one of the things I have taken from that class is that when I write a character who is “ordinary,” that I understand that there still should be specific qualities about such an ordinary character that stand out. When it comes to this film’s character of Ruby Rossi, perfectly played by Emilia Jones, this is exactly what my professor would want me to shoot for. She is in a deaf family, but she is the only one who has hearing. Brilliant. And it is not just a great concept, it has stellar execution. Because this film is completely relatable to someone like me, who was at an age range she previously experienced. Now, unlike Ruby, I knew what I wanted to do the moment I got out of high school, but the problem for me was taking that next step and actually moving on with my life, and I am sort of experiencing the same thing with my soon to be post-undergrad years. That by itself made me connect to Ruby, but when Ruby finds something she is passionate about, it is, almost perhaps understandably, the biggest shock and disappointment she can give to her parents who are having trouble hearing. That passion being music, which you have to HEAR to fully understand. Not only is she passionate about it, she wants to study it, which in addition, requires money… Oh boy.

I grew up in a family of two adults who had their own occupations and ran their own company at some point in their lives. Despite this, I consider myself lucky to have never felt the pressure to attach myself to a family business had I failed to express any interest. I have been given the opportunity to attach myself if I choose, but my main priority right now is film, it’s media, it’s communications, it’s entertainment. I felt for the protagonist because they have to choose between family and herself, and this is really the time of her life when she should be thinking about herself, what she wants to do, and the parents should allow her to do such a thing. They may not like the choice, and again, understandably so, but this is not their life, it is Ruby’s. But we also get a look at the lives the parents have, and there comes a point where Ruby leaving could mean that they have to rethink how they live their lives, and as this movie shows, conduct their own business. Not to mention, when you have to look at your current financial status, that also brings up a question as to what life you can provide for yourself and those you care about. On that note, the main family is perfectly cast. They have phenomenal chemistry. The deaf characters are actually played by deaf actors. Sian Heder brings us a wonderfully conceived screenplay and brings her artistry to the table while telling a story about an aspiring artist. Heder has not done a ton of notable work yet in her career, but I think “CODA” is going to put her on the map as a filmmaker around this time, like “Lady Bird” put Greta Gerwig on the map when she directed that film.

I know a lot of people, and I’m close with quite a few of them. None of them are deaf. So I cannot speak to the accuracy or authenticity of certain aspects of this film, but as for the entertainment value with everyone on screen, regardless of their ability to hear or speak in sign language, that was not short whatsoever. Although on that note, if I think if there were any way to improve “CODA,” there are honestly few things I can think of to begin with. But if I had to come up with something, there is one story element in the movie that admittedly becomes a bit predictable. My dad and I were watching, and we both knew, “Okay, this is where the movie’s going.” Usually I am not a fan of predictable storytelling, partially because when you watch a lot of media, the more repetitive it is, the more likely I am to tune out, but I also think when it comes to how “CODA” handles such a predictable moment, it achieves its goal of making you relate to or feel bad for the protagonist.

“CODA” has such a way of playing with your heartstrings that feels larger than life despite it being one of the most intimate stories I have ever seen, and part of it is because it relies on a lack of sound and written words to carry everything through. It really is film as it was meant to be. Visual storytelling. It does not tell, it only shows. There is a sequence at the end of this film that almost made me cry, and that is not only because the subject matter is incredibly compelling and ties everything together in a nice little bow, but as an editor, I was watching this and admired its ability to tell everything in a fast-paced, eye-popping montage that gave a sweet moment for every second on screen. Very few movies nowadays connect me in such an emotional way, and “CODA” is one of the lucky gems that just happened to knock on my door.

And don’t just take all the sappy comments I stated and put them in a box with this film set next to it, because this film has just about every emotion I could think of. I was figuratively biting my nails. I was jumping for joy. I was getting tears in my eyes. I was occasionally even laughing crazily. The film is surprisingly comedic, and there are a few moments where my dad and I were audibly laughing. One reason why I recommend going to see this in the theater if it is near you is because depending on your level of hearing, even when you hear nothing on the screen, you can still bask in the laughter of an audience, which is one of the most uniquely satisfying feelings I have gathered in my recent film experiences.

In the end, “CODA” is one of the best movies I have seen in recent memory. It won a couple of the big Best Picture awards, including the one that matters the most, the Academy Award for Best Picture, and obviously that warranted Apple to put the film out in as many theaters as it can the next weekend to get some money. I went to go see it the Tuesday after, but I have had my occasional ounce of disappointment here and there when it comes to certain projects. I did not see “Moonlight” until the weekend following its kinda sorta Best Picture win at the Oscars, and I was underwhelmed. Although the following year, “The Shape of Water” won Best Picture. It took me awhile to watch that film, and it turned out to be a stunning and enchanting film with a great cast of characters, so anything can happen. “CODA” truly felt like it was made with the goal to win Best Picture, and it absolutely deserved it. I can barely think of any real problems in this film. Maybe if you don’t like tearjerkers, this may not be my first recommendation for you, but that is a claim leaning along the lines of subjectivity. Plus, even if you don’t like crying during movies I still recommend it, because I left the film feeling whole. I felt happy. It reminded me of my journey as an artist, but also immersed me into a world with people and situations that I do not come across in everyday life. Once again, Ruby Rossi is an ordinary protagonist, but this movie excels by reminding the audience of the extraordinary life she finds herself living every day. And this extraordinary life, made an extraordinary movie. I am going to give “CODA” a 10/10! If I had the chance to redo my top 10 list for 2021, this would easily belong in the top 3 or 4. I would not call it my favorite movie of the year, that honor still goes to “The Suicide Squad,” but it certainly comes close.

“CODA” is now playing in theatres and is available to watch on Apple TV+.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for “Sonic the Hedgehog 2!” I saw the film a couple weeks ago, and I have plenty to say about it. I liked the first film, so who knows how the sequel will pan out… Following that review, I will be sharing my thoughts on the new DreamWorks animated film, “The Bad Guys,” which is in theaters as of this weekend. Also, coming soon, I will have my review for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” the all new A24 film starring Michelle Yeoh and directed by Daniels, the same minds who brought us “Swiss Army Man.” If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “CODA?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite film that has won Best Picture at the Academy Awards? Not just nominated, but they also have to be the winner. This film is definitely a contender, I’ll say that much. Let me know your pick down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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